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Beaufort Delta
Coronavirus

In Ulukhaktok, enthusiasm and apprehension as Covid-19 vaccine arrives


More than half of Ulukhaktok residents eligible for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine have already signed up for an appointment this week, a community nurse said on Sunday.

Posting to a community Facebook page, the nurse said more than 150 people had registered. According to the most recent census data, there are approximately 265 people in Ulukhaktok aged 18 and over who qualify to receive the vaccine.

Vaccinations begin in Ulukhaktok and 10 other remote NWT communities this week. In those communities, considered a priority as they are far from sophisticated healthcare, all eligible adults are entitled to the first of their two vaccine shots.

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“It’s a good thing that [the vaccine] is coming to the smaller communities, because first of all our health centres, they’re too small to take any sick people with Covid,” newly elected Mayor Joshua Oliktoak told Cabin Radio last week.

“They don’t have the equipment. If anyone did get sick with Covid in the small communities, they’d have to be sent out and wait for a medevac.”

In Ulukhaktok, Oliktoak said, it usually takes about a day for a medevac to come in, if a plane is available and the weather is good.

“They’re lucky if they get out in time,” he said, adding overcrowding in homes could result in rapid spread of Covid-19 if the coronavirus reaches smaller NWT communities.

“If it ever hit the small communities, it would just devastate the North,” Oliktoak said.

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He admitted he was “a little hesitant” at first to get the vaccine, as he felt Ulukhaktok and similar communities were being treated as “guinea pigs.”

“Hopefully that’s not the case,” he laughed. “What can you do? It’s a vaccine. We’ve got to have it. The world’s got to have it.”

Ulukhaktok is pictured beyond inukshuks overlooking the community in January 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Ulukhaktok is pictured beyond inukshuks overlooking the community in January 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

While most people approached by Cabin Radio in Ulukhaktok had already called the health centre to sign up for the vaccine, not all are yet comfortable with the prospect.

David Kuptana, who owns Kuptana’s Arctic Adventures, is an outfitter who ordinarily takes tourists hunting polar bear and muskox, dog sledding, fishing, and snowmobiling.

Due to Covid-19 and the collapse of his industry, his business has been reduced to running the hamlet’s cab service to and from the airport.

While he’s eager for things to get back to normal so he can resume full operations, he’s unsure how he feels about the vaccine.

“For me, I think I’ll wait for a while. I’m not anxious to get it because I saw on Facebook some people have a little hard time reacting to it. I don’t know what to do … I’m going to think about it,” said Kuptana.

Mary Banksland, the hamlet’s assistant senior administrative officer, said there’s a lot of mixed feeling in Ulukhaktok about the vaccine, but a translated radio show with local health centre staff last week helped people feel more informed.

“It’s a new vaccine and they see posts on social media about what happened to some people,” she said. “Everybody has a different feeling.”

Banksland has signed up to receive the vaccine.

“All the people that do get vaccinated, they probably will feel more protected, and protect their family and especially the Elders,” she said.

Mary Banksland stands in the Hamlet of Ulukhaktok office in January 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Mary Banksland stands in the Hamlet of Ulukhaktok office in January 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Christopher McConkey, grocery manager of the local Northern Store, hopes the vaccine will mean a return to normality.

“Without the normal games and gatherings [over the holidays], it did affect quite a few people,” he said of the current restrictions on social gatherings.

McConkey has signed up to receive the vaccine.

“I’m actually quite excited,” he said. “I think [the vaccine] will give everybody more peace of mind.”

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